By Michael Crowder
Today another piece of Dharma surfaced at a dentist’s office, of all places. I went to a new dentist for an exam and cleaning. Being new to his practice, I completed a detailed medical history, which included illnesses, procedures and prescribed medication. After assessing my medical history the dentist sat with me to review and plan dental procedures for the future. He led off the conversation by stating that I had officially taken over first place as the patient with the most complicated and demanding prior medical history in his current practice.
He was honest and forthright by stating that any complicated procedures could result in life threatening consequences. He further stated that he would usually refrain from any extended procedures on patients with my history; there was a high probability that they would not live long enough to benefit in any substantial way from the costly and painful procedures. He felt it was unethical to reap the financial rewards by performing these procedures on a patient that would surely die in a relatively short period of time.
His honesty was refreshing and I felt comforted by his ethical standards. I am fully aware of the precarious condition of my health and I was pleased that he did not dance around the issues or take advantage of my situation. He went on to say that my health placed me in an unusual position of having a life span that could stretch to ten weeks, ten months or ten years or more. He stated that most patients like me would generally appear to be lethargic, morose, and slightly depressed. He went on to say that he detected within me a strong spark of life that could help sustain me for an indefinite period of time, so he found it difficult to predicate treatment upon this unknown.
At this point I felt like telling him that what he perceived as a spark of life was the undeniable benefits of my Buddhist practice. That the teachings of the Buddha do not give way to remorse over past events or succumb to the pressures of an unknown future. It is the practice of staying in the moment that allows me to benefit from a life that does not stay entangled in bad decisions and their unwholesome results, or worry myself into a ball of hopeless depression over events that have not made themselves manifest, and for all I know may never. It is this experience of the present moment as something free of stress and worry that gives my practice what he refers to as “a spark of life.” In reality, it is simply seeing my life as it is without the stories I could easily build into problems. Once again the Buddha has shown me that this “precious shining moment” is all there is and is all there ever will be. What an extraordinary gift this is.
“The Single Most Precious Moment” – Majjhima Nikāya 131-4
One night, under the light of a bright full moon, the Buddha gave utterance to this poem, which he encouraged his followers to remember and to frequently ponder:
Do not chase after what is gone,
Nor yearn for what is yet to be.
For the past has been left behind,
And the future cannot be reached.
Those states that are before you now
–Have insight into every one!
Know that well, again and again.
Do this work today, with ardor.
Who knows when death will come calling?
There is no bargaining with Death,
Or with his army of minions.
Abiding ardently like this
Without fail, both day and night, is
“The single most precious moment”
So the peaceful sage has told us.
Michael Crowder found the dharma nearly 7 years ago, shortly after having a stroke. Since then he has maintained a committed daily meditation practice and sits with One Dharma.